Traveling While Differently-Abled
August 20, 2010 4 Comments
As I write this I’m in the backseat of a friend’s SUV, somewhere on the coast of California. I love traveling. I love that feeling of “Wow. I’m in [place] right now” and looking at the mountains, the ocean, the restaurants, and man-made sights. Traveling is a huge privilege, class-wise and abled-bodied wise. The extra things the differently abled have to consider living day-to-day obviously extends to travel as well, though, persons with abled-bodied don’t even consider it.
Plenty of medication has to be packed, the traveling/touring schedule has to be accommodated to fit certain needs, and environmental factors have to be considered. If your traveling partners are all abled-bodied, there’s also the burden of their perceived burden of having to accommodate your needs. All of these things take the whimsical, carefree nature out of traveling. They add stress.
Part of the fun of traveling is seeing new places, but for the differently-abled, that has a downside. At home, we know which places are friendly to our needs, and which places are not. Our doctors are close at hand, as are our pharmacies. Our living spaces at home are already suited to our needs. We have a support system of family, friends, loved ones at home. None of this is so when you go out of town.
When traveling with companions that are all visibly different from you, locals (or other travelers) want to know why. People like to hear the traveler’s story—where you’re from and why you’re there. When you’re visibly different (in my case the only civilian) they want to know why you’re different (why I’m not in the military). And it hurts. We are constantly reminded of our difference, and these questions are only another slap in the face. These questioners are genuinely curious, but that doesn’t change the feeling one gets when you have to endure these questions. I was already very acutely aware of my civilian status. When my traveling companions are in uniform it is all the more so.
See, I desperately wanted to be in the military. My dream, from the age of thirteen, was to join the Air Force and become a pilot. I wanted to wear the uniform. I wanted to serve my country. I joined Civil Air Patrol at the age of fourteen to better my chances, and I loved it. I loved the military culture. I loved how the uniform made me feel. I love the feeling of serving. I loved that respect (that a woman, and a differently-abled one, gets all too rarely). The uniform masked my womanness, the things that signaled my second-class status, and my accomplishments were born right on my uniform, unable to be disputed by others. My accomplishments were the first thing others saw.
So when I was asked about my difference, it was a crushing blow. I had to, again, for the thousandth time, decide if I was going to be “polite” aka a dutiful broken body and disclose my disability, or if I was going to be “rude,” and not satisfy the local’s curiosity, and therefore be an uppity broken body instead. Making that decision at home, in my comfort zone, is one thing. Making it in a new place, where I am merely a visitor and am completely unfamiliar with, is entirely another. It reminded me that my body can’t do the things I want to do, and that my dream is forever taken from me. They tell you as a child you can be anything you want to be, do anything you want to do. For the differently-abled, our disability tells us, each minute of every day: NO YOU CAN’T.
I’m having a wonderful time. I celebrated my birthday here yesterday, and I did not regret being away from home. But for me, and others like me, there’s always something lurking at the back of the mind.